Divorce Boot Camp: Ten Tips in Preparing for Divorce

By Richard A. Joel, Jr., Esq., Joel & Joel, LLP © 2011

1. GATHER RECORDS AND DOCUMENTS. Information is critical in a divorce. It is crucial that you prepare a detailed list of all assets and liabilities that you and your spouse have individually and jointly. The list should include the name of each and every asset (i.e. real estate, motor vehicles, personal property, checking, savings, money market, brokerage, investments, stocks, bonds, pensions, life insurance 401k, IRA, retirement accounts, bonuses, profit sharing, business, money lent, etc.) and liability (i.e. mortgage, home equity loan, line of credit, credit card, overdraft line of credit, utilities, insurance, loans, etc. ) including the name of the account, address for the account, and account number. You should also make copies of as many statements for the accounts as possible so that you can prove what was in the account and any activity. Review the statements for any recent activity if you suspect any questionable spending or transfers. You should also make copies of tax returns (for the past several years), paychecks, wills, trusts, marriage certificates, birth certificates, social security cards and statements, driver licenses, etc. Keep these documents in a safe place preferably out of the marital residence.

2. OPEN A SEPARATE BANK ACCOUNT AND SAVE MONEY. You should open a separate checking account under your name only so that you have funds to live on during the divorce. You could fund this account with 50% of the money available in the marital estate. It is advisable to notify your spouse in writing of the transfer after it has taken place. If you are working or receiving any other income, make sure these checks or direct deposits go into this account.

3. KEEP YOUR VALUABLES IN A SAFE LOCATION. You should keep any valuables you have such as jewelry, collectibles, and antiques in a safe deposit under your name only or other safe place. If you do not, there is always the risk that your spouse will take them and keep them or claim that they do not exist. It is advisable to notify your spouse in writing of the items in safe keeping.

4. OBTAIN A CREDIT CARD AND BUILD UP YOUR CREDIT. You should have a credit card in your name only and build up your credit. This is important so that you have a credit card for emergencies and establish credit to be able to borrow in the future.

5. CHECK YOUR CREDIT. You should run your credit report to check and monitor it. You might also want to put a fraud alert on your credit report. This will guard against a vindictive spouse.

6. OUTSTANDING BILLS AND OBLIGATIONS. Keep careful track of your outstanding bills and obligations. If an obligation is joint, you will both be responsible. If payment is not made or is late, it can affect the credit of both parties. You may be put in a position where a bill has to be paid to maintain creditworthiness and the debt and payment may have to be resolved later during the divorce process.

7. FREEZE OR CANCEL ALL JOINT CREDIT CARDS AND ACCOUNTS. You should freeze or cancel all joint credit cards or accounts including but not limited to home equity lines of credit. Many divorces have debts problems and the other spouse could run up the debt or draw on a credit line to your detriment and you both can be on the hook for the debt. If your spouse is a deadbeat or vindictive, you will be left holding the bag. You should inform your spouse just before taking this action. You should also not consent to any refinance of any property wherein the equity can be withdrawn by your spouse and dissipated. Your goal is to protect yourself.

8. CREATE A BUDGET. Create a budget reflecting your current circumstances and try not to anticipate extra funds that may or may not become available. Do not rely on verbal representations from your spouse regarding living expenses. You cannot rely on your spouse anymore. You will have to rely upon yourself.

9. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF, OBTAIN EMOTIONAL SUPPORT, AND KEEP YOUR EMOTIONS IN CHECK. Divorce is one of the most stressful experiences one can suffer in life. You will be faced with major decisions that will affect your life. It is important to take care of yourself (i.e. exercise, meditation, yoga, relaxation, stress reduction, etc.) and have an adequate support network which may include a therapist, family, and friends to talk through the divorce process. The cost and length of divorce litigation is directly proportionate to the emotions of the parties. You should keep your emotions in check and not do anything dumb (i.e. drink excessively, use drugs, destroy your spouse’s property, assault your spouse, mistreat your children or in-laws or spouse, etc.). You want to be civil and come to the Court with clean hands. Courts do not usually consider fault in the break up when dealing with financial issues. The children always come first in the Court’s mind. The ultimate goal in a divorce case is to reach a fair and reasonable resolution that everyone can live with. Your spouse is no longer your friend and your spouse’s interests are not your interests.

10. HIRE AN ATTORNEY. You should hire an attorney to review the facts or your case and to advise you of your rights and the applicable law. Divorce can involve a number of complex issues and there is too much at stake to go it alone. There are important issues such as custody, support, marital property, etc. which have to be resolved. You should have an advocate on your side protecting your interests.

The above information is provided by Richard A. Joel, Jr., Esq., Joel & Joel, LLP, 496 Kinderkamack Road, Oradell, NJ 07649; telephone (201) 599-0588; telefax (201) 599-0179; email: rjoeljr@joelandjoel.com; website: www.joelandjoel.com. The information provided above is for general informational purposes only and is not intended and should not be considered to be legal advice or legal opinion. This information does not constitute nor create an attorney-client relationship. No recipients of this information should act, or refrain from acting, based upon any of the above information.